The French city of Amiens remains on alert 24 hours after a night of violence saw a primary school torched and violent clashes between protestors and police.
Problems began on Sunday night after police carried out stop and searches on a number of youths close to a funeral. A standoff between police and people attending the memorial for a young man who died in a motorcycle accident may have triggered the rioting. Officials underlined that police were not involved in the death.
Local residents of Amiens have long complained of heavy handedness by police and a sense of alienation from the rest of French society. The area suffers from high levels of poverty and youth unemployment with tensions building in the area for weeks.
At least a hundred youths took to the streets, vandalizing property, setting fires and attacking police resulting in 17 police officers being injured. The youths ran amok through the city torching a pre-school and gym as well as pulling drivers from their cars and assaulting them. Some of the rioters were reportedly brandishing firearms with police coming under attack by buckshot. The rioting only ended when police reinforcements arrived, firing rubber bullets and tear gas in a bid to quell the violence.
Salah Boucebsi, who lives in the area hit by Monday’s violence, said the lack of prospects for youth might have driven the rioting: “There is no work, 65 percent of them don’t have anything.” Mutual suspicion between police and the youth of France led to nationwide riots in 2005.
“This is violence from anger! We’re not animals. We vote and pay our taxes like everyone,” said Sabrina Hadji.
Police reinforced the affected areas with 200 extra police officers on Tuesday night bringing a tense calm to the area. The riots are the first acts of civil unrest since Francois Hollande took the Presidency and will be a test of his government’s leadership.
Interior minister Manuel Valls visited the region Wednesday to meet with city officials over the incident. He was not received with a warm welcome as a group of 100 young men confronted Valls as he arrived at the city’s town hall.
“Calm down! Calm down!” he shouted as the crowd booed and cursed him.
He told a news conference that it was unthinkable that the rioters had targeted the police with weapons.
“Firearms! Can it be considered normal that people turn firearms on police? It’s unacceptable… law and order must be restored,” he said, adding that a small number of people were terrorising the local community.
Locals accuse the police of provocation. One woman complained: “The Minister said hurting policemen is intolerable. The night before they were injured we had several young people injured.
“We had gathered to grieve. The police came to tear-gas us, to shoot at us with flash-balls. We told them there are women and kids, but they replied: ‘We’re going to bury you all’.”
As the Euro crisis rumbles on such acts of violence are on the rise. Spain, Italy and Greece have all experienced riots as the crisis deepens and such protests are sure to become more common.